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Utah Men’s Basketball Takes Fourth Place in Charleston Classic

Despite going 1-2 in the tournament, the Utes showed some flashes of what they are capable of this year and will look to carry that over into the rest of their non-conference schedule.
Gabe Bealer (30) dribbles into the defense as the Runnin’ Utes take on Oregon State at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Jan. 28, 2017. (Photo by Michael Adam Fondren | The Daily Utah Chronicle.


Coming into the weekend, the Utah men’s basketball team sat at 2-0 and looked to make some noise in the much anticipated Charleston Classic. The Utes faced a tough ACC opponent in the Wake Forest Demon Deacons to open the tournament and were able to come away with a big non-conference win. As the weekend continued, the Utes faced the Houston Cougars and the Saint Johns Red Storm but were unable to secure wins against either of the historic programs. Despite going 1-2 in the three games, the Utes showed some flashes of what they are capable of this year and will look to carry that over into the rest of their non-conference schedule.

Game 1: Wake Forest

On Friday, Utah took on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the quarterfinals of the Charleston Classic. Early in the game, it looked like the Utes had a long night ahead of them, trailing Wake Forest 41-31 at halftime with little offensive firepower and a lackluster defensive performance. When the second half began, however, Utah looked like a completely different team.

With a career high of 31 points and 5 blocks for Branden Carlson, plus the addition of 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones coming out of halftime, the Utes were able to neutralize a Wake Forest team that seemed as if they couldn’t miss in the first half. Head Coach Craig Smith‘s halftime speech must have prioritized getting stops on the defensive end, because the Utes came out much more aggressive in the second half compared to the first. Carlson was phenomenal all game, scoring at will from all three levels. The Demon Deacon defense had absolutely no answer for the 7’0″ senior, helping the Utes claw their way back from a 10-point halftime deficit.

Despite Carlson being the biggest story of the game, Utah had plenty of other guys who stepped up in the comeback win. Rollie Worster put on a playmaking clinic, tallying nine assists while pushing the pace and making the right decisions with the ball on almost every possession. Cole Bajema and Lawson Lovering both scored in double figures, with 11 and 10 points respectively, to help take some of the load off of Carlson’s shoulders down the stretch. This game was a tale of two halves for the Utes, resulting in a great win over a tough opponent.

Game 2: Houston

After an emotional first game, Utah looked to advance to the championship on day two of the Charleston Classic, taking on the No. 6 Houston Cougars. Despite losing 66-76, the Utes were able to stay competitive all game against one of the best teams in the country. With just over seven minutes left, the game was tied at 56 apiece, giving the Utes a real chance at knocking off a top-10 opponent. However, Houston’s suffocating defense and excellent offensive sets proved to be too much for Utah to handle as the Cougars knocked off a hot Utah team.

There were plenty of positive things to takeaway from this game, despite not being able to secure the win. Gabe Madsen, who had been struggling to start the season, caught fire in this one, putting up 29 points and knocking down a remarkable eight three-pointers. Madsen was the go-to guy down the stretch as Utah attempted to pull off the upset. Carlson followed up his career-high performance the game prior with 17 points and eight rebounds against the Cougars. Worster continued to run the offense efficiently, putting up six assists in this one as well.

Coming into the game, the size advantage for Utah was going to be a major factor if the Utes wanted to pull off the upset. Unfortunately for Utah, the well-coached Houston team made up for their lack of size with disciplined rebounding and on-ball pressure that the Utes had a hard time scoring against. Utah hung in the game until the final buzzer, however, which is a really positive sign for a Utah program looking to make a national resurgence.

Game 3: Saint John’s

On Sunday evening, Utah took on another tough opponent in the Saint John’s Red Storm and looked to come out of the weekend with third place in the Charleston Classic. The Utes started this one slow and could never quite neutralize their opponents’ high-powered offense. Utah trailed 43-52 at halftime and was never able to claw their way back into this one, falling 82-91.

Playing three games in four days can be a lot for a team that doesn’t have a ton of bench depth, and the sluggish start showed the fatigue for Utah in this contest. The Utes defense was lackluster in this one, allowing 91 points from Saint John’s. Unfortunately, putting up 82 points was not quite enough to derail a Saint John’s team that looked determined to expose Utah’s weaknesses from the tipoff.

Carlson led the Utes in scoring with 22 points on the night, while Bajema, Worster and Madsen all scored in double figures with 14, 12 and 11 respectively. Utah took care of the ball with only 12 turnovers on the night, but the team didn’t shoot the ball well enough to keep up with a Saint John’s team that shot 53% from the field. The Utes will need to figure out how to get more production from their bench as the season progresses in order to maximize their full potential as a team.

What’s Next for the Utes?

Utah will have eight days off before their next matchup against the Saint Mary’s Gaels on Nov. 27 in California. Utah enters the game with a 3-2 record and will look to knock off a struggling Saint Mary’s team.


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About the Contributor
Kyle Garrison, Sports Writer
Kyle garrison grew up in Spring Lake, Michigan. He moved to Salt Lake City to pursue a degree in communications with an emphasis in journalism. Kyle plans on pursuing broadcast journalism as a career once graduating from the University of Utah. Kyle started with the Chronicle this fall and has loved every minute of working with the team.

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